I spend too much time on the phone at work and while I’m on the phone waiting for someone to pick up I read Buzzfeed. There are too many lists of things you should never say to different demographics. I’ve made my own for your reading pleasure but this one is different.
People say things that demonstrate a marked lack of literacy about what you’re going through, honey, and that’s too bad. Let me help you off your high horse. People say things to people because they are insensitive jerks, they’re full of genuine concern but don’t know what to say, or like me they have a neurological impairment that stymies their emotional intelligence. It’s so difficult to communicate with other humans is that the message you send and the message you receive are never the same.
Instead of instinctively (and heavy-handedly) sharing and reposting, “Seven things you shouldn’t say to Rainbow Bright Fans” I want you to wrap your head around this idea, “I judge myself on my motives, others on their actions.” No one wants to be aware of things presented and supported by a pompous ass. I’ve just told you not to read the rest of this post; did you catch that? I'm always amused how we want everyone to be aware our our trevails but seem oblivious of the tribulations and trials of others.
Here are eight things you should be hearing instead, these are the messages people are sending:
- I don’t understand what you’re going through.
It’s entirely possible that the person with the ill-considered comment doesn’t understand what you’re going through. You’re intimately aware of the path your life is taking right now, the rest of us aren’t. Sure, there’s Matt[i] from college who is ‘that guy’ who says the worst things and repeats stupid he heard on television or on talk radio, or comes from a culture where being ‘that guy’ is celebrated and okay. You can’t fix that. You could step down from your high horse and appreciate that they’re trying. Take the gift of their friendship and support as offered. Pass on the opportunity to lecture.
- I care.
Often when someone responds to the heartache, trouble, or just conditions of our lives they’re saying, “I care.” I’m ill acquainted with social norms of humans but just coming out and saying that always sounds incorrect or poorly timed. However, when someone says something that arrives in your years as glib or trite remember to accept it as it was intended, not as you heard it.
Isn't that what you wanted to hear anyway?
- I’m listening.
Akin to the idea of “I care” is “I am listening to you talk because I am your friend and/or we share DNA.” Sometimes we say things in response to sharing to let the person know we’re listening. We’re not trying to hurt your feelings or display ignorance. You’ve been going on for a minute and I need to signal that I am attending and not asleep.
- I have a similar experience I am working through as well.
I haven’t mentioned this to you today: I met Michelle Obama. I also haven’t reminded you that the person who raised me died. One of my best friends also met the First Lady; our experiences shared similarities and differences. Someone would argue that for her it was different and more profound but there isn’t a way to measure that, is there? Maybe they’re not competing, maybe they’re caring and relating? Grandma dying was different for all of us who shared her in their lives so I am pretty confident when my friend’s dad died losing the person who raised her was different from losing the person who raised me – I may have stupidly said something without thinking it through and perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything. I did share Stan’s advice, “Losing someone like that is hard and don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.
- You’re talking about this a great deal, have you considered a support group?
I am a pretty terrible human being a lot of the time, as much of it as I can muster in fact. I do try to listen. Sometimes I am not the person you should be talking to. I don’t know what it is like to not be accepted to the college of your choice or to be left at the altar or to lose a baby. I can listen to you a long time but perhaps share with someone who has been in your shoes. I know that means you have to admit, “I’m not the only one in this situation,” but I’ve been through some shit in life and I promise you: letting go of the novelty helps in letting go, moving on, or coping.
- You’re talking about this a great deal, have you considered professional help?
I have, on one occasion, told someone this: straight up, no chaser. I told them I had been through the same ordeal and after a support group didn’t work I saw a doctor. Sometimes we don’t want to hear that because of the stigma of getting help for a mental or physical health issue, or even just someone walking us through our problems. Get over it, if your friends are causing so much vexation that you’re writing and sharing things on Buzzfeed maybe it’s time to throw in the towel.
- This isn’t the time or the place for this conversation.
One time I was in a sport’s bar with a friend I’ll call “My sister” and she turned around and said, “shut your whore mouth” to some frat boys who were over-sharing in an establishment that is clearly for drinking and eating chicken wings. It’s the Mead Hall of our day, we don’t want to hear how you hurt yourself making a dildo of yourself and it’s not okay that you brought it to show your ‘bros.’ It’s okay to share with your friends but it’s not okay to share everywhere, at any time you want.
- I am autistic, when I open my mouth things come out.
My social interactions rely on past experiences or rehearsed responses. Most of the time when I say things that are terribly, terribly wrong it is because I don’t have the appropriate response in queue. When our paternal grandmother died my cousin Daniel helped me rehearse being in mourning. That wasn’t helped by the fact that our grandmother was what the Internet would call “the worst” and wanted me to know I was a disappointment that she never loved[ii]. Sometimes people are inept and should be ignored as well meaning.
Those are the messages people are sending, even if you're missing it (willfully or no).
I’ve been through some tough shit in my life. It’s not rubbish or crap: it’s been pure, unadulterated, horseshit. I am maladroit in social situations and rubbish when it comes to saying the right thing and the right time, or simply signaling active listening. I’ve also learned to accept the gift of someone’s friendship as offered and to take the support in the manner it was intended – try to receive the message you were sent instead of the one received.
[i] Any resemblance to Matt from college who was a Grade A dick and has his picture next to the definition of “that guy” in any dictionary of slang is purely incidental and a figment of his hubris.
[ii] For anyone else who relies on practice and experience to get through social situations, “Don’t talk to me like you’re my ex-girlfriend.” Is never an appropriate response to your grandmother, no matter how terrible.